Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Overstating the Obvious

Our Governor said education was a priority. Obviously, he failed. Yet, a task force must impart this information.

From the Kentucky Post:

A decade ago, Kentucky's political leaders set ambitious goals for higher education, saying the state's economic health depends on peak performance. The goals were straightforward: Get more kids in - and through - college. Attract top professors and research grants. Rebuild the community and technical college system into a nimble, modern network responsive to employers' training needs. Now, a panel of 25 top business leaders will assess the results and recommend steps to assure progress to Gov. Ernie Fletcher or his successor. "Business people realize the direct correlation between higher education and economic betterment. That connection has to be nurtured, and this task force assessment will be about that," said Dave Adkisson, president and chief executive officer of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber announced the panel today. Two members are from Northern Kentucky: Jim O'Brien, chairman and chief executive officer of Ashland Inc., headquartered in Covington, and Kelly Swartz, site president of Citi Cards of Citicorp Credit Services Inc. in Florence. The task force chairman, Victor Staffieri, chairman of Louisville-headquartered E.ON U.S., an energy services company, predicted the group will produce a significant report. "In today's knowledge-based economy, a postsecondary education is of vital importance to the economic well-being of the commonwealth," he said.

"The members of this task force are leaders in their communities who understand local issues across the state. Given their successful track records, we can expect exciting results."

Adkisson said business interests lobbied heavily for postsecondary education reforms in 1997, and now there's a sense that the business community needs to reengage. "Sometimes, the business community helps fix something and then is guilty of going on to other challenges," Adkisson said.

"The business community has developed a bad case of laryngitis when it comes to education in Kentucky, and we realize we've got to stay at these efforts from day to day and year to year."

Adkisson said the intention is to have the assessment completed late this year, in time to "frame the issue" for a governor inaugurated in December and for the 2008 General Assembly. Fletcher is seeking a second term, although he'll first have to advance in next Tuesday's Republican primary, then win a run-off if one is required in June, and, finally, win the general election in November. "Members of the task force are very strong business leaders from around the state, and they will not be shy about stating their observations," Adkisson said. "My sense is they will be looking for opportunities to make mid-course corrections toward achieving the goals set in 1997."

A consulting firm from Boulder, Colo., the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, will assist the task force. One yardstick of progress will be college enrollment and graduation rates. The Council on Postsecondary Education, which was formed to help implement the Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997, set a goal for Kentucky to match the national average of bachelor's degrees awarded annually by the year 2020. In 2000, there were 400,000 Kentuckians - 19 percent of the state's population - with bachelor's degrees. The goal is to have 800,000 - 32 percent - by 2020.

However, if the current rate of producing college graduates continues, the state will be 200,000 under the national average in 2020. To get the state on track to meet the national average by 2020, the council has set high enrollment and graduation goals for all colleges in Kentucky. The goal for Northern Kentucky University is to increase undergraduate enrollment to 22,520 and double the number of bachelor's degrees it awards to 3,149 annually by 2020. The total cost at campuses across the state for new and renovated classroom buildings that will be needed to accommodate such a huge influx of students was estimated last month by council consultants to be $11.7 billion. At NKU, where President James Votruba said at least a half-dozen new classroom buildings will be needed to meet 2020 enrollment goals, council consultants said $544 million will be needed for new construction and $316 million for renovation, a total of $860 million.

How the task force convened by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce approaches money matters remains to be seen, said Adkisson. "The task force is beginning without any assumptions regarding money," he said. "But as they revisit the challenge of the 2020 goals, they're likely to identify financial implications to making any changes and will deal with those as business people as responsibly as possible."

Votruba said before a search for money begins, people like the governor and lawmakers must want more and better educational opportunities for Kentuckians. "Start with the 'will,' and if there is a strong will for education, then you go about finding the capacity to fund it," he said.

"You find the will first. That means the governor and General Assembly have got to fully understand the significance of post-secondary goals for overall economic progress."

Votruba said he doesn't know if it's possible to concentrate resources in education and still do what needs to be done in other areas of government. That will be up to the governor and legislative leaders to decide, he said. "But, over the next 15 years, we're going to see states that are winning and states that are not. And in the winning states, higher education has a prominent place," Votruba said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

steeleskentucky.blogspot.com; You saved my day again.

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